GREENBURGH, N.Y. – The obligatory question didn’t come until the end of Knicks president Donnie Walsh’s session with reporters Tuesday, but it had to be asked.
What role did Isiah Thomas have in the Knicks’ successful pursuit of Carmelo Anthony?
"I have no idea,” Walsh said, understandably reacting testily to the incessant drumbeat about Isiah’s role. “Only what I read in your papers. … I’m assuming Isiah’s getting ready for the NCAA Tournament. That’s what I’m assuming.”
Maybe in the office pool, but not on the court. Thomas’ Florida International team is 9-17.
Asked if it would bother Walsh if Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan was keeping with his word and continuing to solicit Thomas’ views – as he said in a statement announcing the team was no longer pursuing Thomas’ employment as a consultant – Walsh said, “I could care less. There are a lot of people that talk to him, all right? I could care less.”
The notion of Thomas working behind the scenes to help Dolan accelerate the Knicks’ pursuit of Anthony – part conspiracy theory, part urban myth, and part truth – has cast a shadow over one of the most significant days in Knicks history since their last championship 38 years ago. Dolan still leans on Thomas, whose mark as an executive – besides incompetence – was to make the big splash now at the expense of the future. Theories about Thomas pushing Dolan to get involved in the trade talks – speaking with the Nuggets’ Stan Kroenke and meeting with Anthony himself in Los Angeles – took on new life during All-Star weekend. The Knicks’ sudden departure from Walsh’s patient negotiating path seemed out of character for one of the best poker-faced negotiators in the league.
But Walsh, toeing the company line like the pro that he is, said he and coach Mike D’Antoni were in constant communication with Dolan while he was in Los Angeles and that Dolan “didn’t put any words in my mouth or anything, or any thoughts in my head.”
“Jim went out to L.A. to be at the owners’ meeting,” Walsh said. “Somewhere in there it developed that he could have a meeting with Kroenke and later with Carmelo. Which was good news. Before he even went out there, we had met and talked about this deal. When he was out there, at every stage he called me and Mike – he was talking to (Kroenke) – and he kept us apprised of it. We talked it out. I was on the phone the whole period with him or with other people about this trade. And it’s continued through (Tuesday). We were together. That’s why when this information came out that suggested we weren’t, we issued the statement. And it was a very truthful statement.”
Asked if Dolan had to sell the deal to Walsh, who throughout the process was reluctant to gut the roster to get Anthony, Walsh said, “No, not at all. And he shouldn’t because I’m the one who knows basketball, all right? So my job is to advise him, that this is good for your franchise. And I did that.”
There has been speculation that Walsh was so displeased with Dolan's spearheading of the final push to give up four players and three draft picks for Anthony -- with Thomas pulling strings in the background -- that it could affect Walsh's desire to return for the final year of his contract, which is at the team's option.
"I haven't thought about my future, all right?" Walsh said. "I don’t think it’s time to think about my future. You guys are making more out of it than I’m making out of it."